Despite some serious logistical challenges, Grass Valley will push forward with naming its largest upcoming municipal project after slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was born in the town.
“It’s very generous of them to consider honoring Chris,” said Jan Stevens, the emissary’s father, in a phone interview with The Union. “We’re very gracious of their consideration.”
One of those challenges is to garner California legislature approval of changing the name of a nearly $25 million planned project to add on- and off-ramps to Highway 49/20 at Dorsey Drive from “Dorsey Interchange” to something in honor of Stevens. It will require a legislative sponsor, said Public Works Director Tim Kiser.
“This is a lengthy process, but maybe we can get it expedited based on the circumstance,” said Councilman Howard Levine.
Another challenge is not enraging veterans.
The Dorsey Drive bridge that currently spans over the highway is named in honor Pfc. Thomas W. Cranford, who died in the Vietnam War. The bridge was named in honor of Cranford by Blue Star Moms, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of members of the armed forces.
“We certainly don’t want to discredit the sacrifice of Thomas Cranford,” said Mayor Dan Miller.
Instead, the council voted at its Tuesday night meeting to name the interchange itself in honor of Stevens, which would not change the designation of the bridge in honor of Cranford nor the name of Dorsey Drive, Miller said.
“I think it is definitely worth staff time to pursue this,” said Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout. “And some of us can reach out to some of the legislators.”
With the council’s resolution to pursue the renaming, city staff will get the ball rolling with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), as council members reach out to legislators and local veterans associations about not negating Cranford’s designation, Kiser said.
Stevens was reportedly killed during a strike on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Also killed in the consulate attack were a State Department computer expert and two former Navy SEALs acting as CIA security contractors.
Stevens was laid to rest around Thanksgiving 2012 in at a family plot Grass Valley.
“The fact that he was laid to rest here — this area obviously meant a lot to this family,” Swarthout said.
Stevens was born in 1960 at Sierra Memorial Hospital, as were his two younger siblings, his father told The Union.
One of the arguments for the new highway interchange is faster access to that hospital, of which Stevens’ grandfather, Elmer “Chief” Stevens, was one of the founders.
Even though Jan Stevens’ work as California’s assistant attorney general took his family to the Bay Area when Chris Stevens was young, he frequently returned to Grass Valley in his youth to visit his grandparents.
“Chief” Stevens was a well known history and speech teacher at Grass Valley High School before it consolidated with Nevada City High School and became Nevada Union High School. His grandmother, Marguerite Stevens, taught Spanish and physical education at Nevada City High School,
“I had my public speaking and government class with ‘Chief’ Stevens,” said Miller. “‘Chief’ was one of the most liked teachers at Nevada Union at that time.”
Stevens’ mother, Mary Commanday, and Jan Stevens attended rival schools in Nevada City and Grass Valley in the days before the two were consolidated into Nevada Joint Union High School. Jan Stevens’ mother, Margaret Stevens, was Commamday’s Latin at Nevada City High School.
“I think it’s quite an appropriate idea,” Commanday said of the proposal to name the interchange after her son in an email to The Union.
Should the hurdles before naming the interchange in honor of Stephens prove insurmountable, Miller said there are other options.
“What we’ve found out is that only McKnight Way was not yet named after a service man killed,” Mill said. “Our fallback position would be to name the McKnight Way (bridge) after Stevens.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.